Asaram Bapu, the self-styled godman who has thousands of followers across the country, is charged in multiple rape cases. He is currently lodged in Jodhpur Central Jail, where a judge has pronounced him guilty in one of the rape cases — that of a 16-year-old girl of Uttar Pradesh five years ago — against him. From running an empire worth thousands of crores or rupees to being a prisoner facing charges under the POSCO Act, Asaram Bapu’s journey has been interesting to say the least.
Asaram: Early life
Asaram was born in April, 1941 at the Berani village, now in Pakistan and was named Asumal Sirumalani. After Partition, he moved to Ahmedabad with his family. He reportedly took care of his father’s coal and wood business after the latter’s death. But soon, the family moved to Vijapur in Mehsana district of Gujarat.
Asaram’s tryst with spirituality apparently came with a series of escapades from home during his adolescent years. At the age of 15, he is noted to have run away to an ashram, right before his wedding. Though his family convinced him to return, and he did get married, he escaped once again at age 23. It was during this time that he came in contact with his spiritual guru, Leelashahji Maharaj.
It was Leelashahji Maharaj who accepted Asumal as his disciple, showing him the path of spirituality. On October 7, 1964, he named him Sant Shri Asaramji Maharaj. However, he began propagating his own brand of Hinduism only after Leelashahji threw him out of his ashram.
His built his first ashram, with about five to ten followers in 1972, in a town called Motera in Gujarat. Eventually, he found more followers in the tribals when he went to Surat. He subsequently went on to open ashrams throughout the state and the country, ran as many as 40 gurukuls (schools), a printing press, and opened businesses for products such as soap, shampoo, medicines, etc. By 2008, his empire was worth Rs 5,000 crore, a chargesheet filed by the police had claimed. Large droves of followers attracted politicians, and the Congress, as well as BJP governments, granted him land for his projects.
Asaram’s brand of Hinduism is an amalgamation between a simplified reading of Hindu scriptures along with Tantric practices, which appears to have included some elements of black magic as well. Reportedly, Asaram’s spritual projected was cut out to suit the needs of the disempowered sections of the Indian population. His popularity was particularly strong among the tribals and the Hindi-speaking population of north India.
Accusations against Asaram
The rape cases are not the first time Asaram had gotten into trouble with the law. In 2008, mutilated bodies of two children were recovered from the banks of the Sabarmati river, close to his ashram in Motera. It was found that some vital organs from the bodies were missing. The Gujarat police had booked seven of his followers in 2009 for the murders of the two children. In August 2013, a case was registered by the Delhi Police stating that Asaram had allegedly raped a 16-year-old girl at his ashram in Jodhpur. He was taken into custody on August 31, 2013.
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A few months later, emboldened by government action on the self-styled godman, two sisters from Surat filed charges against him on similar lines as well his son Narayan Sai. They said that they were followers of Asaram, who, along with his son, had raped them repeatedly and had confined them to the ashram premises. What followed was a spate of killings. As many as three key witnessess in the case were murdered and nine were attacked. An alleged henchman of Asaram, Kartik Haldar, was nabbed from Chattisgarh’s Raipur in March 2016.
Despite criminal charges against him, the ‘godman’ has more than two crore followers. He owns property worth millions, has close to 400 ashrams in 12 countries and more than 50 schools, as well as a printing press and an Ayurveda unit.